Friday, 22 November 2013

Basking in the Mediterranean Air: a journey to honour the other Jack

Given how much fun our last flash getaway was, Freddie and I decided to take off again — this time to the tiny island of Almirah, just off the North African coast of the Mediterranean!

Here is Freddie, getting his first whiffs of salty Mediterranean air from the north wall of the Old Fort in Almirah City. (The town has a "fort," but, in fact, the island has only ever been invaded in its mythology.) Isn't that blue amazing?! Apparently dogs see blue better than any other colour.

Palm trees on the avenue leading to the fort (a dirt road, as you can see)

The little roof is a bus stop shelter, necessary only during the brief rainy season in March.
Here we are, outside our hotel, charmingly named "Auberge Blanca-Azul." Both French and Spanish are spoken on the island, as well as Arabic and English.

Although the sun was blinding, the temperature during the day was a very pleasant 23 celsius.
This is the Port of Almirah. The fishing boats had already gone out for the day by the time Freddie and I arrived, leaving just a few pleasure yachts. The blue one belongs to an Oxford History professor travelling around the Mediterranean with four young siblings as his crew. Freddie and I met the youngest one, Lucy, on the dock. She said their parents are on a six-month peace-keeping mission in the Middle East, and the professor, a close relation, offered to take the kids along on his research sabbatical while the parents are away. What a trip!

These vibrant flowers — "Lions of Almirah" — abound in the city.

Even though the fisherfolk and fruit vendors were early risers, business at this café, which we passed several times over the day, didn't pick up until mid-afternoon.

This is a government building of some kind. I figured that out when a goateed man carrying some parcels and (inexplicably) an umbrella came up and asked if we were waiting to speak with the Prefect. I said my dog was feeling a bit hot, so we were resting in the shade. The man went away and came back a few minutes later with a bowl of water. "Compliments of Madam Prefect!" he said.

Almirah Island has a rail system. This is the main station, located on the edge of the city. Thinking I might get a photo, I asked someone when the next train was due. She looked at her watch, then at the sky, then said, "Fifteen minutes, maybe. Maybe tomorrow." Freddie and I waited a few minutes then decided to move on.

The Miraj Hotel is Almirah City's showpiece. Built in the late '50s, in anticipation of a visit from C.S. "Jack" Lewis, it is the island's tallest and most opulent structure. Sadly, Almirah's favourite author had to cancel his planned visit. There have never been enough tourists in town to fill the hotel, so most wings have been dedicated to other purposes (seniors' centre, youth centre, museum, hammam/spa, and, of course, the Lewis Memorial Library).

 Another view of the Miraj ....
I nearly bought this rug! Handmade in a village on the Caspian Sea, the shopkeeper claimed. Maybe if we'd sold our place already ...

The hills behind Almirah City are thick with orange groves. 
Almirah oranges are very sweet, with just a hint of lemon in the aftertaste. 

The hilly central region of Almirah, where Freddie and I took a pleasant hike, is cooler and more sparsely populated than the periphery. This lamppost is something of a landmark, and a guiding light, to inhabitants of the tiny central hamlets.

Rooftop of the Miraj Hotel, where Freddie and I went to watch the sun set

I also enjoyed an "Almirah sunrise" (orange juice, gin, grenadine) and toasted C.S. Lewis, who is to be honoured today, 50 years after his death (overshadowed at the time by JFK's assassination), with a memorial in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey.

“For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.”  
C.S. Lewis, "Bluspels and Flalansferes"


  1. Hurry home! I miss you both.

    1. We'll be home for supper! Is it my turn to cook?

  2. You have just the BEST life, Heather. Paris one minute, Almirah the next . . . and Vancouver with Paul and Freddie in between.

    1. I agree, Leigh — and then there are all the wonderful friends in my life. I'm very fortunate!

  3. I'm having a little trouble finding Almirah on the map. The architecture looks faintly Moorish, but they were pretty widespread so that's not much help. You did mention the Caspian Sea, but I don't see anything around there.

    Was it part of the former Yugoslavia? Or am I thinking of the Northwest Territories? One of those places that broke up either because of an ethnic dispute or maybe a bad real estate deal.

    My geographic skills are kind of weak.


    1. Hi, David ... I'm impressed by your efforts to locate Almirah! I doubt it's to be found on any conventional maps, but keep trying ... and watch for tomorrow's post, which I hope will provide assistance and inspiration!

    2. P.S. To get started, you might try clicking the "Almirah" link in the post.

  4. Okay, here goes: the goateed man from the government building who gave Freddie water is a reference to the faun who befriended the first child into Narnia. In Lewis' vision, the faun carried an umbrella. (And of course fauns always have goatees.)

    1. That's a winner, Leigh ... but can you repost your answer in the comments for today's post? :)


What say you?